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5 Questions to Avoid Asking Kids

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We say we want kids to have a thinking faith, but we often create the opposite with 5 questions to avoid asking kids. A skill we need to get better at is asking good questions. Here’s what we often ask: How many disciples did Jesus have? What were the disciples’ names? Which disciple was with Jesus at the cross? Which disciple did Jesus appear to after he rose from the dead? All of these questions are closed-ended and basic recall–which are two types of questions we need to avoid.

Instead, imagine asking these questions: Why do you think Jesus chose 12 close disciples? Why do you think some people wanted to be Jesus’ disciple while others didn’t? Why do you think Thomas couldn’t believe in Jesus until he saw with his own eyes? When have you been like Thomas?

A world of difference!

In our editing of FaithWeaver Now, we’re eradicating 5 types of questions that do nothing to create a thinking faith for children. You can do the same with the curriculum you’re using. Here are the five questions to avoid asking children.

1. Basic Recall Questions–The first set of questions above are basic recall. Some might argue that we need to ask these questions to check whether kids got the basic truths or facts. I would argue instead that asking deeper questions that get at kids’ understanding will reveal whether kids got the basic facts or not. In my opinion, basic recall questions are a waste of time and should be avoided like the plague. Take kids deeper in their understanding and you’ll nurture transformative discoveries!

2. Close-Ended Questions–Questions that can be answered with one answer are closed ended: yes, no, maybe, good, bad, etc. The point of asking children questions is to create a dialogue–not to test them! One little girl felt so drilled by closed-ended questions that when she came home, she told her mom that she had taken a test at Sunday school. Use open-ended questions to create a vibrant conversation.

 

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3. Guessing Questions–We ask so many questions where kids are just guessing: “What did Mary feel when Jesus died?” How would they know? They’re just guessing. “Why did Judas betray Jesus?” Again–guessing. Simply adding “what do you think” to these questions helps because kids don’t have to guess about what they think. So ask, “How do you think Mary felt as Jesus died on the cross?” or “Why do you think Judas betrayed Jesus?” Even better, ask: “Why do you think Jesus didn’t kick Judas out of the group before his betrayal?”

4. Projection Questions–Often, in an attempt to move kids to life application (which is important), we ask kids to project into the future: “What would you do if an angel appeared to you?” or “What would you do if someone challenged your faith in Jesus?” Again, they’re guessing about the future. Instead, we can ask kids to think through options: “What could you do if an angel appeared to you?” or “What could you do if someone challenged your faith in Jesus?” A great follow-up to that last question would be “Which of those options do you think would be the hardest or the easiest for you to do?” Another great antidote to Projection Questions is to ask kids to tell about a time where they actually experienced what you’re talking about: “Tell about a time someone made fun of you for being a Christian.”

5. Not Age-Appropriate Questions–(I can’t think of a term for the opposite of Age-Appropriate). It’s frustrating for children and teachers when questions are above their ability or their knowledge base. As I edited the three younger age levels of FaithWeaver NOW, I was excited to see the questions become even more age-appropriate since we’ll use this curriculum in my 2-year-old class this fall. No more blank stares from my little ones!

Here’s to you getting the kids in your ministry developing a thinking faith that’ll give them a strong foundation not only in what they believe, but also why they believe!

5 Questions to Avoid Asking Kids
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About Author

Christine Yount Jones

Christine has more than 28 years of children’s ministry experience. She is the Executive Editor of Children’s Ministry Magazine, has authored many books and articles on children’s ministry, and serves as co-director of the KidMin Conference. She’s led teams in the development of leading innovative resources, including Buzz Instant Sunday School curriculum, Grapple Preteen Curriculum, and the new Dig-In Sunday School curriculum. Follow Christine on Twitter @ChristineYJones

9 Comments

  1. Children's Ministry Magazine
    Jane Jamison on

    Perhaps – "Developmentally Appropriate"
    and "Developmentally Inappropriate"
    would be two terms to use in #5,
    (following the Developmentally Appropriate Practices initiative and guidelines of the National Association for the Education of Young Children).
    Knowing the typical behaviors and capabilities of the children we teach is the first step to providing a developmentally appropriate learning environment.

  2. Children's Ministry Magazine
    Judy Jowers on

    Thank you, Ms. Christine Yount Jones. I often use application questions with my elementary students.

  3. Children's Ministry Magazine

    I would bed to differ about your #1–Basic Recall. This is by far one of the oldest types of learning/testing of one's understanding. It has been used in past eras, rather than tests, to see how much the child (or adult) picked up from the material they just went over.

    You can otherwise just hand them a worksheet with pre-determined questions with blanks to fill in. Then you have just taught them to what you determine is more important for them to know–taught to the test, not to the student. Oftentimes, then, you missed how many other very important details that they actually picked up. Some may be mundane–the "student" may note somebody's color of clothing, etc.–something you may have missed. But many other times, they awaken an interest in the teacher. It has been called "narration" for years.

    After they have "narrated" what they picked up from the materials, you can then further their understanding by presenting opportunities to deepen their understanding of the faith.

    This was an interesting article, but I just felt that one point wasn't as meaningful. I have been an educator for 17 years–that is the way I base this argument. 🙂

    • Hi Heidi,

      I am not sure that what you are calling narration (as a homeschooler using many of Charlotte Mason’s strategies, I am very familiar with narration) and what the author refers to as basic recall questions in point one is actually the same thing. In Narration we might as a child to tell us the story in his or her own words, in which case, yes, we do get the type of narration to which you refer, one that demonstrates what they have personally taken in from the story. However, the author is referring to basic questions with short, rote answers that reveal very little about what a child has internalized -exactly the types of answers that would be expected in your fill-in-the-blank example. Even questions like what type of wood did Noah use to build the arc, how many loaves and fishes were in the lunch the boy shared, etc. The answers are very specific and memorizing them may help a child know more bible facts, but knowing whether there were 10 plagues or 12 doesn’t matter nearly as much as understanding what God was doing to rescue the nation He loved and how the Passover is picture of Jesus’s sacrifice rescuing us from our sin.

  4. Children's Ministry Magazine
    Cara Shelton on

    After teaching for over 20 years, both in the Sunday School/AWANA/VBS venues and in classrooms, I found this article interesting but more thought-provoking than applicable. The suggested questions in the second paragraph seem to be guessing questions, for instance.

    I have to agree with "Heidi" – basic recall questions CAN be a great way to get the ball rolling. They can also be terrific "gameshow" questions. I suppose my point is that I have found it isn't really what type of questions you ask, as much as how you ask them. Make it fun, make it fast-paced, make it IMPORTANT. Many of my bible teaching experiences come in a wide age-group class situation. Even asking questions that are technically not age-appropriate can be used to start a discussion.

    My rule #1 about questions – don't ask a question that I don't really care if they know the answer to. If I'm excited and truly believe what we are discussing is important, the students will follow that lead.

  5. So, based on the ideas in this article, what are examples of “good” questions to ask? I typically teach 2-5 years olds and use basic recall most of the time. In addition, I’ll ask: What happened after …? or Why did … do … ?

    • Christine Yount Jones
      Christine Yount Jones on

      Cam, I teach 2-3 year olds and the “rules” are most likely a little different for the youngest ones. However, I like to recommend the DUAs–Discovery, Understanding, Application. So Discovering is recall–what happened. Understanding–why did it happen. Application–what difference does it make. Here are examples for Jesus Calms the Sea (we taught this yesterday in Sunday school): Discovery: What did Jesus do when his friends woke him up? Understanding: Why did the sea obey Jesus? Application: What can I do when something is scaring me?

      Hope this is helpful! (BTW, when I asked my 2’s and 3’s what scares them, we had a wonderful conversation about wolves, coyotes, and foxes!) 🙂

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